In 2019, UFC President Dana White announced for the fifth time, Lightweight Champion Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov and #1 ranked contender Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson would be booked to fight for the Lightweight belt on April 18. This fight had been scheduled four other times since 2015 and has fallen through for one reason or another. Every. Single. Time.
MMA fan Adam Venne agrees that the fight is cursed, “I don’t think there’s anything there to prove that the fight isn’t.”
First in 2015:
The fight was first scheduled for Dec. 11, 2015, during The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Team Faber v. Team McGregor, as a lightweight bout between two of the lightweight division’s most dominant fighters. According to ESPN, Nurmagomedov, at the time, was 22-0 and Ferguson was on a six-fight win streak, showcasing that both of these men would be a definite contender for a title shot against then champion Rafael dos Anjos. However, Nurmagomedov suffered a broken rib six weeks before and was forced to pull out of the fight. Instead, Ferguson fought and won against Edson Barboza, a fighter known for striking while Nurmagomedov is known for his heavy-duty wrestling and grappling.
Then in 2016:
The bout was rescheduled for April 16, 2016, during UFC on Fox: Teixeira v. Evans, with “The Eagle’s” rib injury healed, and “El Cucuy” ready to go as well. However, once again, a fighter was forced to drop out of the fight because of a serious injury. This time though, it was Ferguson, who had to bail because doctors found blood in his lungs. As a replacement, White called up Darrell Horcher to debut in the UFC against Nurmangomedov, who won. This boosted his record to 23-0, inching him closer to the title.
Next in 2017:
Third time’s the charm, right? Wrong. Once again the bout between Ferguson and Khabib, this time scheduled as an interim lightweight title fight on March 4, 2017, at UFC 209, was canceled. This time, the MMA gods gave us all promotions and excitement up until a day before the fight, when Nurmagomedov had to pull out due to sickness from a bad weight cut. This has since been deemed “Tiramisu Tuesday” by Ferguson after a picture of Nurmagomedov with a tiramisu circulated around the internet a few days before the weigh-ins. The fight was too close to call a replacement, so in October that year Ferguson choked out Kevin Lee and won the interim lightweight title.
Again in 2018:
UFC 223 was once again scheduled to host Khabib v. Ferguson, as the real Lightweight Championship of the World on April 7, 2018. Then lightweight champion Conor McGregor was stripped of the title due to inactivity and taking time to explore boxing. So, with the real belt up for grabs, the tension was rising and all seemed to be going to plan. Until a week before the fight when Ferguson tripped over a cable and tore a ligament in his knee that required surgery. So, White called up then featherweight champ Max Holloway, who accepted the fight on short notice, but was denied to fight on weigh-in day by NYSAC who deemed him medically unfit to fight. Instead, the championship fight was Nurmagomedov and Al Iaquinta, a lightweight contender who went five rounds with the Russian but lost due to a unanimous decision, so Nurmagomedov was champion.
Now in 2020:
Nurmagomedov has defended his 155-pound title twice, against Conor McGregor in Oct. 2018, and Dustin Porier in Sept. 2019, both of whom he submitted. His third title defense was set to be against, of course, Ferguson on April 18, 2020. During promotions, MMA fans really believed this could be the one, and White was determined to have the fight happen, no matter what..
However, in March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shut down all non-essential businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic and the NYSAC said they would not hold the fights on their grounds. So, White had to find a new location, which he eventually did on a private island in California. Nurmagomedov felt doubtful the fight would happen, since he was stuck in Russia and President Vladimir Putin had restricted flights. He officially pulled out due to worries about quarantine on April 1. So, with White insistent that the show must go on, lightweight contender Justin Gaethje was called up to fight Ferguson for the interim title. However, after conversations with ESPN, where the fight would’ve been viewed, White was forced to shut the whole show down.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky later this year,” Venne said.
Will this fight ever happen?
Both fighters are in their 30s, Nurmagomedov being 31 and Ferguson 36, and both want to be remembered as the greatest lightweight of all time. The only way to do that is to become champion, which Ferguson has yet to do after being stripped of his interim strap before he got the chance to unify.
“I feel bad for Tony because time is running out,” Venne said. “He might be a machine but Father Time always wins.”
When the cancellation of a single matchup is so common, you have to ask: is this ever going to happen? MMA fans all agree that this is the one fight everyone wants to see, and needs to happen for the future of the lightweight division. The most we can do is hope.